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Who does the Port of Olympia serve?

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Works in Progress accounts reveal a 21st century history of a government that serves many interests, but without a focus on helping people in Thurston county.

Following the invasion of Iraq 2003, local peace, anti-war and non-violence activists became concerned about the use of the Port to support military shipments. By 2004 they had sparred with the Port enough to learn that the Port Commissioners intended to continue with the shipments, and many misleading statements about what types of materials and equipment were included. Numerous protests around the Port of Olympia were organized from late 2004 onward.

WIP published many pieces between 2005 and 2008 that touched on facets of Port Militarization Resistance (PMR). Articles included headlines such as, “Stand-Off at the Port of Olympia Gate” (July 2006); “Olympia 22 Win Initial Court Battle: First Iraq War Protest Case to be Allowed to argue Defense of Necessity” (November 2006); “Port Militarization Resistance: We Must Act Locally and Directly to Stop the US Occupation of Iraq” (March 2007); “Olympia 22 Case Ends in Mistrial: Reveals Surveillance of Activists” (April 2007); and “Blocking the Strykers: Thirteen Days of War Resistance at the Port of Olympia,” (December 2007).

Stryker vehicles were a major point of contention, and they were part of the cargo of a shipment in May 2006 that set off the biggest protests.  A total of 37 people were arrested in protests that month.  The military claimed it would cease shipments through the Port of Olympia in favor of the much larger Port of Tacoma, and PMR moved its protests there.  Yet in November, a shipment of returning Strykers and related equipment showed up at the Port of Olympia and triggered more protests by anti-war activists.  The November protests led to 66 arrests.

The anti-war protestors had to deal with a share of police brutality, and they learned they were infiltrated by members of the US military, who had spied on them for years.  In November of 2009, public records requests exposed John Towery as an infiltrator. Further records requests confirmed that numerous local law enforcement groups, federal agencies, and branches of the US military participated in the spying on Port Militarization Resistance.

The Port spurred another wave of protests when it imported bags of fracking proppants from China shipped by Houston-based Rainbow Ceramics after signing a contract in 2012.  The proppants were loaded onto railroad cars for transport to the Dakotas and nearby.  In 2016, protestors occupied a section of railroad track in downtown Olympia, and tensions flared between the city and the Port as the security and cleanup costs mounted. When the market collapsed, the Port was literally stuck holding the bags for years, revealing how the drafting of Port contracts favored marine terminal users and failed to protect the public.

The money-losing contract with Weyerhaeuser and a couple of other large local logging companies is the most persistent example of bad deal making by the Port. The companies store, debark, sort and ship raw logs at the Port’s marine terminal, on such bad terms that the Port loses well over a million dollars every year. The logs caused so much pollution in Budd Inlet that the Port built stormwater infrastructure costing more millions, yet still found itself fighting and losing two major clean water lawsuits, which cost even more millions in attorneys’ fees, restitution, and further storm water mitigation.  Port Commissioners spent more millions upgrading log loaders.

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